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Technology Transfer Mechanism for Textile Industry (Part-I)

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Farid Ahmad1, Maeen Md. Khairul Akter2

1Institute of Appropriate Technology (IAT), Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

2 Department of Textile Engineering Management, Bangladesh University of Textiles

Introduction

Technology has become a major factor of production in the contemporary business world. It can be easily realized that industries and corporations equipped with the most advanced technologies are the market leaders. The textile industry of Bangladesh is renowned for its continuous supply of raw materials to the ever growing garments industry. But the matter of regret is that the 40 year old industry is very slow in technological development and most of the factories are running on the back of a mixture of low and mid-end technologies haphazardly. The need assessment of the textile industry depicts that the industry requires a rapid development of its technological fundamentals to remain competitive in the near future. But unfortunately indigenous capability of creating and developing technology in the institutes or research centers is very poor in our country. As a results the industries are compelled to rely on the transferred technologies to develop the technological fundamentals of their factories. Hence, an effective technology transfer mechanism is the only solution. This article is a part of continuing research at the Institute of Appropriate Technology (IAT), BUET undertaken under a project in order to establish a Technology Transfer Office (TTO) targeting the industrial sector of Bangladesh. As textile and garments sector is the largest industrial sector, this particular research here proposes a technology transfer mechanism especially for the textile industries. The article is in two parts. The second part will be covered in the next issue.

Technology Transfer Mechanism

The proposed technology transfer mechanism is an attempt to develop a system considering all the learned theories from the literature and the research outcomes of innovative capacity of the industries. This mechanism will open scopes for industries so that a particular industry can assess itself in terms of their innovative capacity and choose the elements of transfer mechanism described in this research. As described in the introduction the proposed technology transfer mechanism consists four elements. They are:

  1. Transfer Process
  2. Transfer Strategy
  3. Transfer Mode
  4. Transfer Personnel

The first two elements are described in this issue.

Transfer Process

In this research an attempt is made to develop a comprehensive technology transfer process that starts from identifying industry’s technology need and finishes with solving that need and reporting.  According to literature the need is identified from the gap between current technology and the target technology. This gap can be perceived due to scientific change, market competitiveness, company policy or continuous innovation.  Now, the fact is every need is not full-fillable through technology transfer; the transfer decision must be based on the company’s innovative capacity and the extend of gap between the current technology and target technology. This is why update on the global technology innovation trend and technology assessment is an essential element of the technology transfer process. After gathering sufficient knowledge on the target technology and the global trend about the technology every industry individually must develop their own idea and strategy for the technology. This customized idea will allow the industry to specifically identify the components of the target technology that to be transferred. As technology transfer is a process associated with formidable cost, it is not a good idea to transfer technology components which are not required or do not directly help solving the industry need. This is why the first step in the transfer process is proposed as the Ideation stage where every industry develops an initial idea, interprets the idea with the senior and concerned staff and finally validates and optimizes the idea so that effective transfer process can be initiated.

The transfer stage is the second step in the proposed transfer process. This stage starts with initiating the actual transfer of technology or technology component. Again as technology transfer is an innovation, consciousness and appropriate knowledge building about the transfer process in the industry during the transfer stage is important. This program can be arranged in the form of seminars or round table meetings providing enough information to the executives concerned with the target technology or technology component so that they are mentally and socially prepared to face the new changes. This stage also includes the training of the personnel involved with operating the new technology.

The third stage is the facilitation stage. This stage ensures the implementation of the transferred technology or technology component. The aim of this stage is to make sure the gap between current technology and the target technology is significantly minimized and the need that was identified earlier is met. Analysis and reporting of the transfer process is done in this stage to identify the actual implication of the new technology or technology component. The information from this stage can be further used to increase efficiency of the later transfer processes.

The outline of the proposed transfer process is illustrated below:

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Transfer Strategy

The proposed transfer strategy is an element of the ideation stage of the transfer process. As it is said earlier that every industry must develop their own idea or strategy according to their innovative capacity and actual need; the strategy becomes so important. The decisions are derived from the characteristics of the company, innovative capacity factors attributing the technology transfer and the target implication of the target technology or technology component. This concept is adopted and modified from Mafia’s (1993) technology transfer mechanism which is described in the earlier chapter. The transfer strategy is illustrated in a table below.

So in this research four transfer strategies are proposed. i.e.

  • Offensive strategy
  • Defensive Strategy
  • Imitative Strategy
  • Conservative Strategy

Industries which are found very strong in all four factors of industrial innovative capacity should target for technologies that help them to develop new products for market and technical leadership. This type of industry is rich in financial resources and have the ability to invest extensively in research and development. This strategy is proposed as the Offensive Strategy. They are also very strong in networking, problem solving and experimenting with new things. The number of industries in this category is very few who are strong in all innovative parameters. In this research only 21% of the industries are found such. This mechanism proposes that these 21% industry should adopt the offensive strategy. These industries are found to be well off as long as their resources and competencies are concern. They should make comprehensive strategy to develop new products that will increase the value addition of the industry. These type of textile industries are found to be composite industries comprising all the textile process departments like knitting, dyeing-finishing, printing, garments and merchandising. These industries have huge orders from foreign buying houses and found to make medium to high CM (cost of making) products like fancy shirts, jackets, pull-overs, sweaters, denim etc. So the next step for development should be to target smart textiles and performance apparels which are more value added and associated with high-end technologies. As these companies have already proved to work efficiently with medium-to high end technologies now they should take strategy to develop technology for technical textiles like geo-textiles, medical textiles, automobile textiles etc. or high-end performance apparels. It will take a huge investment in R&D and technology purchase which they are capable of as they have the resources and competencies.  This will lead to market and technical leadership and new products development in the sector which translates into a sustainable development of the industries.

The second strategy is stated as Defensive Strategy which is proposed for industries that are not very strong in the innovative parameters like the 21% of the industries stated before but strong enough to start developing technologies for gaining market and technical leadership. In this study it is found that 46% of the industries can be grouped in this category who are not very strong in innovativeness but they are on the way to become a very innovative industry and gain leadership in the competitive market. The defensive strategy proposes that the industry should target technologies that incorporates new features in their existing product or product mix as development of a complete new product is a bit too optimistic for them. Introducing new quality features and variety in product mix also needs vigorous R&D but lesser than the offensive strategy. This type of industry can do design transfers to improve their product design and technology components that are used to improve the product features. Like, improving yarn quality or introduction of high count yarns for spinning industry; introducing quality management tools to reduce defects; reducing dyeing reworks with a better dyeing technique, introducing new wash processes or embroidery technology in the garments section, these are some examples how industries can adopt the defensive strategy where they are not investing extensively in infrastructure and R&D but considering selected investments in different areas of its supply chain to improve their products and processes to gain more profitability and market leadership.

The third strategy is for industries that are not strong in innovative capacity, low in resources and infrastructures and do not have a defined strategy and culture for development. This is stated as the Imitative Strategy. Around 21% of the industries under investigation in this research was found to be in this category where there is no significant vision of the top management for innovation, rather they are more concerned with day to day operational tasks to remain competitive in the business. These industries are found to be producing low-end items like regular knit and woven fabrics, normal dyeing and finishing of fabric in the textile industries and T-shirts, polo-shirts, shorts, baby clothes in the garments industries. As there is not much fund allotted for research and development and the staff dedicated for R&D are very few and are engaged mainly in sample developments they often work around low-tech products, copy design and reverse engineered products. For this type of industries aiming for product development or quality improvement is very tough task. So these industries should aim for the imitative strategy where they should look for technology or technology components that will help them to do design copying, reverse engineering of products so that they can remain competitive in the low-cost product market. Their aim is not to gain leadership but to survive in the competitive market and gain confidence for further transformation in the future. For this they need to concentrate more in productivity improvement and process improvement as their margin for profit is very narrow. Improving production planning, introducing industrial engineering tools for production management, strengthening online quality inspection system, improving inventory and logistics systems are some of the example of technology/ technology component that can be adopted in the imitative strategy. This is a strategy where industries will target technology or technology components that will help them improve production process, productivity and cost control and try develop their resources continuously so that they can transform to higher strategies in future. Here industries imitate the design and products from others so that there is no additional cost in R&D which allows them to concentrate more in productivity improvement and cost cutting.

The fourth strategy here is the Conservative Strategy which is for the industries which are toiling hard to survive in the competitive market and have no investment in R&D what so ever and very weak in human resource. In this survey we found 12% of the industries can be considered in this category who should adopt the conservative strategy for their development. These type of industries are reluctant to change their practice and behavior primarily because of their lack of proper knowledge. They tend to prefer quantity over quality and try to take bigger orders with simple designs which are easy to make. These type of industries are found to have no proper leadership that is necessary for transformation. This strategy is named as conservative because it requires no or very little investment in R&D. Cost control is the primary target for these type of industries as costing is a major factor for them. Examples can be the improvement of management information systems, better production planning with integrated software, reduction of defects and reworks by proper training and motivation programs etc. These are all tacit components of technology that can be transferred and adopted in these industries to control the cost and improve productivity so that the industry remains competitive and increase profitability.  The conservative strategy will allow the industries which are weak in innovation adopt simple technology components that will help them control cost, improve productivity and gain more profit from the same setup.

Transfer Strategy

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Conclusion

This article is aimed at educating the industry stakeholders about the significance of continued technology development in the industries in order to remain competitive in the ever changing global market. For countries like Bangladesh, effective technology transfer mechanism in the industries is the key to attain technological and market leadership. This research recommends the industries should adopt an efficient technology transfer mechanism according to their technological need, the market the work in and their organizational framework. This mechanism described here can be a reliant guideline for an effective cross-fertilization of knowledge on technology management area which is a new but very significant area for industries. The second part of the article will be published in the next issue of Textile Focus.

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